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Creating Opportunity for People with Disabilities in San Juan through COVID-19

by Erwin Colli Chayax, OG’s Hub Administrator in San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala.

For people with disabilities in the towns around Lago Atitlán in Guatemala, opportunities for employment and self-sufficiency are slim. Work is hard to come by, and a lack of support and accommodations means that most young people with disabilities often grow up relying on their families for support indefinitely. One organization is paving the way to change that.

Alma de Colores is a labour and social inclusion workshop for people with disabilities located in San Juan la Laguna. The project works with 26 people between the ages of 16 to 44 years in five areas: crafts, sewing, bakery, organic garden and a café & restaurant. The project is part of Centro Maya Service Integral, an organization that has been committed to the issue of disability since the 1990s.

The Centro Maya is a groundbreaking organization and continues to make strides towards its objective: to promote a social business model for the social and labor inclusion of people with disabilities.

Raquel Ujpan, the General Coordinator of Alma de Colores notes that, “the project is very important in the community as it means job opportunities for people with disabilities and support for their families. Without this project people with disabilities would not have the opportunity to develop economically.”

Importantly, for the parents of young people with disabilities, this project is vitally important as it makes their children feel more empowered, valued and confident in themselves. The program at Alma de Colores sets them up for a bright future where their talents and skills can contribute to the community.

One of the members of Alma de Colores is a man named Lucas. He is 28 years old, and his wife’s name is Luisa. They have a one year old son. Lucas works in Alma’s organic garden located at The Hub Guatemala site where he produces vegetables that they can then sell in the market and use in their restaurant. For Lucas, the Alma de Colores project has been incredibly significant in his life as he has learned many transferable skills as well as having a reliable job that supports his family.

Unfortunately since the COVID-19 pandemic began, all five work areas of Alma de Colores have suffered greatly. They have had to take drastic measures in order to generate work and income for their members with disabilities, such as cutting the salaries of the office staff and reducing the working hours of their members in all of the different areas.

The future of Alma is at risk. Without international and local visitors to their restaurant and workshop, they have been unable to support their members who have few other options for work. They are running out of resources to keep their members employed.

Operation Groundswell has been a long time friend and partner of Alma de Colores, and almost all of our Guatemala programs visit their restaurant for an unforgettably delicious meal in San Juan. So, although we cannot travel and are waiting until it is safe and responsible to do so again, we are committed to helping Alma de Colores as much as we can in this time of crisis.

Instead of taking donations, the Centro Maya and Alma de Colores want to keep the members employed and contributing to their community. In collaboration with OG, they have opened their restaurant doors to the rest of the world and are selling meals to help support their organization! A meal costs just $5 USD, and all meals purchased through this fundraiser will be donated to people in the community who have suffered greatly due to COVID-19.

If you are interested in purchasing a meal from Alma, you can do so here! Their goal is to raise $5000 to support their members for three months. Any and all contributions are much appreciated, and will help the Centro Maya and Alma de Colores continue to advocate for and support people with disabilities around Lago Atitlán.

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